The Papers of Woodrow Wilson, Volume 41
January 24-April 6, 1917
Edited by Arthur S. Link
At the beginning of this volume, Wilson has broken diplomatic relations with Germany and is seeking various alternatives to full-scale belligerency, among them being armed neutrality and common action by the neutrals to protect their rights at sea. Once it becomes evident that American merchant ships will not venture into the war zone without protection, Wilson adopts the policy of armed neutrality on March 9, 1917. He struggles all through the first weeks of March to avoid war, but gradually becomes convinced that armed neutrality is not a sufficient response to the all-out German submarine campaign.
On March 21, 1917, Wilson decides on war. He calls Congress into special session for April 2, and on April 6, he asks Congress to recognize the existence of a state of war between the United States and the German Empire.
The papers from this period contain ample evidence of Wilson's travail as events push him toward his address to Congress on April 6. The volume is crowded with new documents about the path to the war. Documents from British, French, and Swiss Foreign Ministry Archives, in particular, shed much new light on Wilson's motivations and actions.
Arthur S. Link is Professor of American History, Princeton University.